“In the human mind, the number of possible connections that can be made between neurons greatly exceeds the number of atoms in the universe.”-Alan Moore
Human brain is not a single, general purpose processor but a combinations of highly specialised and specific components. Each part solves the a different specific problem and collectively they make things possible to act or behave in a particular manner as human or thinker.
I want to narrate a personal experience, when I was preparing a squad of my troop for guard of honour ceremony, sometimes it was difficult to figure out particular airman. I felt loosing my mind and went through quick mental checklist. Every airmen looked similar and could not distinguish but lastly I could recognise the particular airman with the ribbon he was wearing on the chest.
This type of sudden loss of ability to recognise frequently happens to people in normal life. The term I could find out from my psychological studies is prosopagnosia. Generally deeper level of such disability happens as a result of damage to particular part of brain. A peculiar thing about this ability is that only face recognition is impaired; everything else is just normal.
The brain is divided into distinct components but the effort to discover those components has jumped to warp speed with invention of brain imaging technology like MRI. MRI enables to see internal anatomy at high resolution.
The really cool advance with functional imaging happens when scientists figured out how to make pictures that show not just anatomy but activity, that is, where neurons are firing. Brains are nothing but muscles. When they get active, they need increased blood flow to supply that activity, and lucky for us, blood flow control to the brain is local, so if a bunch of neurons, say, right there get active and start firing, then blood flow increases just right there. So functional MRI picks up on that blood flow increase, producing a higher MRI response where neural activity goes up.
Overt Vs Covert Attention
Brain has a vital function for our attentions whether it is for the object in front of us or the stimuli around our span of attentions. There are two types of attentions.
Overt attention is the act of directing sense organs towards a stimulus source. For Instance, when you focus on object with your eyes, it is called overt attention.
Covert attention is the act of mentally focusing on particular stimuli. It is thought to be a neural process that enhances the signal from a particular part of the sensory panorama.
When you are driving your car, you have both type of attentions. You see objects in the front and simultaneously you are scanning the surrounding area, where you don’t actually look at them.
The attention must be initiated from a particular portion of the brain. What’s important to us about this function is not the particular locations of the brain regions, but the simple fact that we have selective, specific components of mind and brain in the first place. The brain could have been a single, general-purpose processor, more like a kitchen knife than a specially made Armed Forces kitchen knife. Instead, what brain imaging that is delivered in the form of interesting picture of the human brain. So we have this picture of very general-purpose machinery in our heads in addition to this surprising array of very specialized components.
In near future we will be able to trace bundles of neurons that connect to different parts of the brain, and we will trace the connections of individual neurons in the brain, potentially someday giving us a wiring diagram of the entire human brain. Ultimately we will be able to figure out how does all of this very systematic structure get built, both over development in childhood and over the evolution of our species. Scientists are now scanning other species of animals, and they’re also scanning human infants.
Many people justify the high cost of neuroscience research by pointing out that it may help us someday to treat brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and autism. That’s a hugely important goal. The effort to understand the human mind and brain is worthwhile even if it never led to the treatment of a single disease. What could be more thrilling than to understand the fundamental mechanisms that underlie human experience, to understand, our true identity as super animal. This will be a greatest scientific achievement of all time.
1. The brain’s memory storage capacity is something closer to around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes).
2. Highly successful people tend to use their brains at 6 percent. Albert Einstein used 11 percent of his brain capacity and became the greatest scientist mankind had ever witnessed.